There’s no better time to hike New England than autumn. The bugs and crowds fade, temps cool, and—perhaps best of all—the landscape puts on a world-famous show of fall color. For a few glorious weeks, forests go scarlet with the leaves of the red maple and black cherry, orange with sugar maple, purple with white ash, and gold with hickory and American beech. We’ll say it: The land doesn’t get any prettier than this.
Massachusetts offers a huge array of trails for admiring the foliage, many within an easy day-trip of Boston. And while the color depends on a variety of weather factors, such as precipitation and temperature, the average fall peak is mid-October in the Berkshires and late October closer to the city. These top three Greater Boston hikes—ranging from an easy ramble to a strenuous summit—will take you straight into the kaleidoscope. Trade your sweater for a soft shell, pour that pumpkin latte into a thermos, and get ready for the show.
MILD: Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary
Lincoln, Mass. (35 minutes from Boston); $9 entry fee required for adults, $6 seniors, $6 kids 2-12, free for Audubon members
Run by Mass Audubon, this 232-acre preserve features a working farm, native wildlife exhibits, and 4 total miles of trail exploring native woodlands and wetlands. The universally accessible, half-mile All Person’s Trail loops around the farm, where kids (and adults!) can see pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats as well as the foxes, cottontail rabbits, owls, and other birds of prey that live here in the wildlife center. Those looking for more hiking can explore the whole network of linked trails, which lead to the top of a glacial drumlin (a small hill left behind by advancing ice), alongside turtle-filled ponds, into a nature playground, and through the brilliantly colored sugar-maple and red-maple forest.
MEDIUM: Noanet Woodlands
Dover, Mass. (40 minutes from the city); $6 parking fee (free for Trustees members)
The summit of 387-foot Noanet Peak is the highlight of any autumn hike in this 600-acre preserve managed by the Trustees of Reservations. From this perch, you’ll see a sweeping view over the reds, oranges, and yellows of the surrounding forest, plus a peek at the Boston skyline. But don’t stop there. The rest of the woodlands feature quiet ponds, deep woods, and an old mill site. For a moderate, 4-mile double loop trip, start at the Caryl Park trailhead and connect to the Noanet Peak Trail (yellow blazes). You’ll loop around the hills, then hoof it up to the viewpoint at Noanet Peak. Descend to the Peabody Loop (blue blazes) to explore more forest and ponds—at Upper and Lower Mill Pond, link up with the red-blazed Caryl Loop to return to the trailhead.
DIFFICULT: Mount Greylock
Lanesborough, Mass. (3 hours from the city); free entry and shelter camping
Where better than the high point of Massachusetts to catch the state’s best fall leaf display? At 3,491 feet, Greylock’s superlative elevation grants vistas spanning 90 miles on a clear day—plenty of real estate to showcase the region’s fiery maples, beeches, and hemlocks. You can drive nearly to the summit, and plenty of people do, but half the fun is hiking there. A number of trails lace the Mount Greylock State Reservation, but the local’s-favorite Bellows Pipe Trail is a worthy route to the summit. The 11-mile out-and-back starts at Notch Gate and climbs along a ravine 2.7 miles to a backcountry shelter (maximum 12 campers; no reservations). Swing west, then join the famed Appalachian Trail for the final half-mile to the top.